This is an ancient land. Hangman’s Barrow, a slumbering giant resides behind the farm. Earth energy lines satellite out towards Carn Brea, Carmenellis and Crowan Beacon.
Connected to this earthly web the distant mound of St Michael’s Mount lies silhouetted against the spectre of hills beyond, appearing landlocked by a silver lake. Granite boulders dig deep into the land having guardianship over the processional path from Barrow to Beacon.
Gateways, gaps in hedges and groups of leaning trees mark the only visible legacy from those days when man and land were bonded.
It is autumn and as dusk gathers a barn owl sweeps past scouring the land for preyamongst the grassy hillocks, home to small rodents.
The view from the farm stretches along the Lizard peninsula to the satellite dishes of Goonhilly, west across the hangers and airstrips of Culdrose, sweeping over Mounts Bay and then north across the hills of West Penwith, until reaching the lights of St Ives. Strips of molten sea track the path of the travelling sun, the clouds turning copper as the glowing orb concludes its daily tour of duty.
Small farms dot the landscape, a mix of beef and dairy herds interspersed with fields of grazing horses. In the spring, fields of ewes with their lambs come and go. Days are punctuated by crowing cockerels and cows mourning the loss of their offspring to ensure a continued milk supply.
Come early spring many of the fields turn golden, daffodil picking creating an influx of Eastern European workers.Hedgerows infused with colour and form, line the narrow roads from spring until late autumn.
The high land at the farm is croft, piles of granite surrounded by gorse, heather, bracken and encroaching brambles. Where bracken has been cut back foxgloves and mulleins are quick to take advantage. In some areas, wood anemones appear, confirmation that once trees covered this land.
As early summer unfolds wild flowers abound in the meadows thriving on the thin layer of soil, too poor for the competing grasses.
This is a wild place. Very little between it and the Atlantic winds. Days can go by when cloud envelops the landscape, visibility diminishing to yards not miles. The moist air feeding the green mosses that cloak the trunks and limbs of the sycamores. At such times breadth of vision turns inwards, the world and even immediate neighbours excluded in this cocoon of isolation.
The people here have a saying, “Folks’ll gladly lend a hand, but like to keep theyselves to theyselves”.
To live off the land here is hard. Below the line of the croft it is mostly grazing. Families who have farmed here for generations now have to compete with corporate agriculture. But these are people who love their animals and traditional farming is in their soul. So they will go out to work to bridge the deficits they are now facing. Milking their herds before they go off in the morning and working on their own land till 11pm at night, tractor headlights ploughing a furrow through the night sky. To do otherwise would be unthinkable.
As farms change hands, it is incomers who are infiltrating the land and bringing new skills. A new kind of landed gentry. People from ‘upcountry’ cashing in on inflated house prices and materialising their dreams for space, land and aspirations of self-sufficiency. Coppices are planted, boreholes sunk, polytunnels erected, solar panels carefully positioned for maximum gain.
Yet a symbiotic relationship evolves between local and incomer as fields need to be maintained and deals are struck. Silage is stored for winterfeed and incomers admire their freshly cut fields and pile of steaming manure – green gold.
As well as Quoits, stone circles and barrows, the landscape bears witness to more recent times. The remains of tin mines and shafts preserved in partial decay haunt the skyline. Although echoing the Victorians love of ‘splendid horror’, it is also a reminder that industry is scarce here. Tourism strives to fill the gap. Farmers convert outbuildings into holiday lets to offset the decline in their incomes as supermarkets exert their immense muscle and demand unsustainable prices.
Many industries have come and gone in this part of the world and some like fishing and farming are struggling.
But there is a doggedness reflected in the stony face of the granite boulder, which still marks the old ways. New and old skills are shared – times never so hard an offer of help won’t be forthcoming. Livings may be scratched but lives are lived. A fertile mix where characters are born and possibilities can grow.